Sunday, March 6, 2011

Windsor Ruins

With my trip now 2 weeks behind, and still many photos to catalogue, I want to begin sharing some of the things I saw along the way...those things that called for more than just a fleeting mention as I moved from place to place...places where I spent some extra time.

The first of those places is The Windsor Ruins, all that remains of a Mississippi treasure built between 1859 and 1861.  Located just  off a winding rural Mississippi highway in Clairborn County about 10 miles southwest of Port Gibson and Alcorn State University, this was by far the most 'off the beaten path' of any place I visited on this trip. 

Built by Smith Coffee Danial III (1826-1861) it was the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion built in the state of Mississippi.  Designed by David Shroder and built primarily by slave labor, the mansion consisted of 29 forty-five foot tall columns supporting the projecting roof line with it's plain, broad frieze and molded cornice providing protection for the galleries which encompassed the house on the 2nd and 3rd levels. 

The first floor (or above ground basement) housed the family's own commissary, doctor's office, school and dairy along with the kitchen and storage area.  On the second floor were 2 parlors, a library, the dinning room and something unusual for that time...a 'master bedroom' with private bath and study.  The third floor consisted of 8 bedrooms and a bath.  And on a smaller 4th floor was a never completed ballroom and a roof top observatory from which Mark Twain is said to have observed the Mississippi River.  A water tank in the attic provided water to the bathrooms and each room had a fireplace for heat.  There was also a dumb waiter connecting the kitchen and dinning room.
Part of the sad legacy of this beautiful mansion is the fact that Smith Daniel only lived in the house for a few short weeks after it's completion, passing away at the age of 34 in 1961.  His family - wife and 3 children - continued to live there and it is said that many cultural events were hosted at their home.  Windsor was used as an observation point by the Confederates during the War Between the States and as a Union hospital after the Battle of Port Gibson in May of 1863.  It is also said to have been visited by several famous people including Mark Twain.

On February 18, 2011 I stood amongst all that remains of what was once the grandest of all of Mississippi's mansions...the 23 columns standing starkly against the February sky.  I learned only later how this once grand mansion had burned to the ground on February 17, 1890!  It is said the fire was started by a lighted cigar left laying on a upstairs balcony, or tossed carelessly in a pile of debris, by a guest.  The fire burned from top to bottom making it impossible to extinguish. All was lost including plans, drawings and any pictures of the house. 

The drawing to the right is said to have been made by a Union soldier while traveling through the Windsor area during the Civil War.  Discovered years later it is the only known depiction of what Windsor actually looked like when complete.

Below are several of the photos I took that day as I strolled beneath the remaining columns 121 years and 1 day after the destructive fire.  I am in awe of the construction of these columns that still stand after all this time.  I imagined the things that may have taken place here, the history that was made, the people who loved, laughed, cried, danced and otherwise lived their lives in this beautiful place.  I smiled at the sun and blue skies over head that day and imagined the beauty of this once grand home. 

In closing let me say that if you are ever in the Port Gibson, MS area it would be well worth the time to go 'off the beaten path' to visit the Ruins of Windsor.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Amazing story and pictures Tanya. It is amazing how magnificient the workmanship was in those days. Thanks for sharing. Suep